City Plans Lawsuit to Stop Moth Spraying

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The Berkeley City Council took the first step last Tuesday toward joining several other Bay Area cities in suing the state in an effort to stop a controversial aerial spraying program.

The spraying, designed to eradicate the light-brown apple moth, is set to begin in August. However, concerns about its potential health effects have led to efforts to stop the spraying.

At its meeting last week, the council decided unanimously to give the city attorney the authority to join with other Bay Area cities in a joint lawsuit against the state.

According to the California Department of Food and Agriculture, the moth is an invasive species that poses a threat to over 2,000 plant species. The spray is comprised of pheromones, or sex hormones, that confuse male moths and keep them from mating until they die.

At a City Council meeting last month, dozens of concerned residents spoke against the spraying.

After spraying in Santa Clara County last fall, the department received

approximately 330 health complaints, although a report issued by two state agencies said the spraying was "likely not the cause" of the health issues, said department spokesperson Steve Lyle.

According to Councilmember Gordon Wozniak, the city will likely move forward with the process of suing the state, but the only remaining issue is approval of funding for the suit, which will vary with the number of cities involved.

"The City Council has been meeting with half a dozen or more local cities to coordinate the suit," he said. "It's going to be regional, San Francisco is involved, lots of smaller cities around are involved as well. At this point it's just a formality, we just have to vote on the final amount we're going to contribute."

Several local jurisdictions have expressed interest in joining the suit, including Richmond, Albany, El Cerrito, Oakland and San Francisco, said Councilmember Dona Spring.

Wozniak said the lawsuit was designed to delay the spraying until the council had an opportunity to review the Environmental Impact Report on the spraying, which the state will release in December.

"One of the things we're asking is the state not do any spraying, that it be delayed until we have opportunity to see the impact report," he said. "There are lots of other things they can do without having to do aerial spraying."

Although he could not comment specifically on the potential suit because it has yet to be filed, Lyle said aerial spraying is necessary in this case and the department plans to continue with its spraying timeline.

"(We) believe the primary approach with the size of the infested area needs to be aerial treatment with moth pheromone," he said. "At this point we're intending to hold to the timeline we announced earlier this year, with spraying in the Bay Area starting approximately August 1."

But Spring said Berkeley residents will support the suit because of potential health concerns.

"Nobody wants to be sprayed," she said. "We've got expert testimony that it would pose a hazard to human health so it's going to be done over some dead bodies."


Amy Brooks covers environmental issues. Contact her at [email protected]

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